Shikhar Dhawan’s seventh One-Day century & a truly wonderful flourish from Ajinkya Rahane
By Naman Trivedi
The atmosphere at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on didn’t quite parallel that at the Adelaide Oval last Sunday, but, then again, there is not much that can match the intensity and drama of an India-Pakistan contest. That said, there was no shortage of either colour or passion as 86,786 fans, a massive majority of them Indian supporters, crammed the biggest cricket ground in the world in the fond hope that India would end its ICC Cricket World Cup jinx against South Africa. Their hopes were realised as India produced a commanding performance to sweep AB de Villiers’s men aside. Shikhar Dhawan’s seventh One-Day International hundred and a truly wonderful mid-innings flourish from Ajinkya Rahane had muscled India, batting by choice, to 307 for 7, but it was what followed that was special.
Great performance. Well played. Congrats Team India. You make us proud yet again
- Shri Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India
The bowling was relentlessly aggressive as Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav and Mohit Sharma cranked up the pace on a surface that had become livelier under lights, but it was the fielding that shone the brightest. Wonderful athleticism and accuracy from the deep from Mohit and Yadav resulted in the run outs of de Villiers and David Miller respectively. Games turn on just one such dismissal; two were two too many for South Africa. To see India field with the brilliance that it did must have been particularly heart-warming for Mahendra Singh Dhoni, whose side took a giant stride towards the quarterfinal with a comprehensive 130-run victory after South Africa was bowled out for 177 with nearly ten overs to spare.
South Africa would rue Hashim Amla letting Dhawan off on 53, a lapse that was to cost it plenty as the left-hand opening batsman homed in on three figures. India had never lost on the six previous occasions when Dhawan had made a One-Day International ton; it was in seventh heaven on Sunday, as the Dhawan streak remained unaltered. The ferocity with which Shami and Yadav came at them rocked Quinton de Kock and Amla. South Africa was given no leeway at all, the boundary balls conspicuously absent. All three quicks hurried every one of the batsmen on view with pace and bounce, commodities that hadn’t reared their heads earlier in the afternoon.
Just about the only time India was somewhat threatened was when de Villiers and Faf du Plessis were engaged in a 68-run third-wicket stand at just slower than a run a ball. South Africa was still a long way back but the potential for carnage these two men possess is legendary. That’s when Mohit stepped up, running to his left from sweeper cover to swoop in on a cut and rifle in a flat throw to a delighted Dhoni. De Villiers gone, the lower order was exposed, with South Africa a batsman short after sacrificing Farhaan Behardien for Wayne Parnell.
Du Plessis flowered briefly but India persevered and kept finding success. When Yadav mirror-imaged Mohit’s throw to catch Miller, also returning for a second run, just short, the celebrations began in the stands and in the changing room. India had won its first game in World Cups against South Africa in four tilts. India's batting effort bore an uncanny resemblance to that of exactly a week back, against Pakistan at the Adelaide Oval. Like then, there were two successive century stands, for the second and third wickets; also like then, one batsman hit a hundred and the No. 4 provided the impetus, even if the personnel involved were largely different.
South Africa's fielding is very seldom anything but less than top-drawer stuff. De Villiers’s direct hit from a squarish mid-off to evict Rohit Sharma in the third over of the game was further confirmation of the standards South Africa set and meet on a cricket field. But that’s as good as it got for it as India’s batsmen turned on the heat. Dhawan blazed to the highest individual score against South Africa in World Cup cricket, while Rahane played an innings of rare incandescence.
But just as aggression alone wasn’t the bedrock around which Dhawan built his seventh ODI ton, India wasn't a one-man army either. Virat Kohli, fresh off his Adelaide century, kept Dhawan company in a second-wicket stand of 127, and Rahane then took the breath away with a succession of the most spectacular strokes that swept Dale Steyn away too in their wake.
Steyn had begun the afternoon with a first-over maiden, bending the ball past the outside edge of Rohit’s bat twice in the first six deliveries, but as the swing went out early, Dhawan and Kohli were able to bat with confidence, if not necessarily freedom. The early part of their association was all about occupation of the crease and careful accumulation of runs, through judicious placement and exceptional running – something India did excellently well throughout the innings, Rohit’s run out after a mix-up with Dhawan notwithstanding. South Africa was dealt a body blow when it lost Vernon Philander’s services with a left hamstring injury after a first spell of 4-1-19-0. Against Steyn and Morne Morkel, India played it smart, not taking undue risks but still scoring briskly because of the manner in which it ran between the wickets.
Hearty congratulations to you and all members of your team on your victory in the match against South Africa, the second of our ICC World Cup 2015 campaign. I am happy to know that this is India’s first ever win against South Africa in World Cup matches. This has become possible because of the all-round performance displayed by every member of the team. My best wishes for continued success in the remainder of the tournament.
- Shri Pranab Mukherjee, President of India
Having returned to somewhere near his best with 73 in the last game, Dhawan drove crisply and cut with disdainful nonchalance as his offside play attained full bloom. Twice, against Steyn first and then Morkel, he did get into awkward positions against the short ball, but as his innings blossomed, he played the pull and the ramp, too, with impunity. Kohli looked far more fluent than against Pakistan, a wonderful on-drive off Morkel competing with a push-drive that left even bowler Steyn gasping in admiration the pick of his strokes. Just as he was primed to kick on, he pulled a long hop from Imran Tahir, otherwise pretty tidy, straight to shortish midwicket.
With nearly 23 overs left, the stage was set for Suresh Raina to come out and do his bidding; instead, Dhoni pulled a rabbit out of the hat and pushed Rahane up, and what a masterstroke that turned out to be. Rahane isn’t the fiercest striker of the cricket ball but he is a clean hitter who showed that you can score briskly even through orthodoxy. He arrived in a blaze of positivity even as Dhawan made the journey to his hundred in 122 deliveries. Taking the pressure off his partner, Rahane unleashed such destruction that South Africa were positively rocked. De Villiers and his men might have expected Raina or Dhoni to cut loose; they were singularly unprepared for the Rahane assault that dominated the third-wicket stand of 129, which came off only 101 deliveries.
Post his century, Dhawan too opened out, an audacious pick-up off Morkel that soared over the fine-leg fence a definitive statement of command and mastery. India then lost 5 for 46 in the last 39 deliveries, starting with Dhawan’s dismissal, but that was far from decisive. What was, was India's pace exhibition, and a tremendous fielding display from a side that will be viewed with respect by the rest of the field.